Unions’ protest to little avail

by 13 Dec 2006

DESPITE MUCH union hype that the November 30 national day of action against the Federal Government’s industrial relations laws was a major success, it is estimated that less than 100,000 people attended the trade union rallies nationwide.

More than 99 per cent of Australia’s 10 million employees shunned the rallies, with less than 10 per cent of union members in attendance, according to reports from The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI).

Kevin MacDonald, CEO of Australian BusinessLimitedState Chamber, echoed the ACCI’s comments, noting union predictions that millions of workers would turn up to the rallies were all nonsense. “Increasingly, the ACTU is appealing to a militant few who long for a return to the days of regular industrial disputes, militant unionism and centralised agreement making,”he said.

Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Kevin Andrews acknowledged the right to protest, but he said people were starting to realise that unions’claims about the sky falling were bogus.

“We’re looking for workers in Australia, we’ve got wages going up, The Fair Pay Commission gave a $27 a week increase to the lowest paid workers in Australia,” he said.

Minister Andrews said the reason WorkChoices would not change was due to the fact it is addressed national interests, rather than merely representing sectional interests or vested interests in a way that unions do.

The main focuses of the protests were the disadvantages that workers face under the new IR laws, who can be docked four hours pay for any unauthorised work stoppage and have no protection from being sacked unfairly or without warning in businesses with less than 100 employees.

“The Howard Government wants Australians to ‘sit down and shut up’and take what the employer offers,” said Sharan Burrow, ACTU president, in an address to rally-goers in Melbourne.

Greg Combet, ACTU secretary, said millions of people have lost their rights at work under the new industrial relations laws.

“It is undeniable that the longer these laws are in place, the more people will be directly affected,” he said.

Former Labor Party Leader Kim Beazley told the rally that a future Labor government would discard the IR laws, while Victorian Premier Steve Bracks also said the new laws are putting further pressure on working families.

Before the rallies were held, a Commonwealth public servant, Greg McCarron, was forced to appeal to a Full Bench of the Federal Court for the right to use his leave entitlements to attend the protest against WorkChoices.

An appeal by the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) overturned a former decision in favour of the Office of the Employment Advocate (OEA). The decision to overrule was crucial for two reasons, according to CPSU secretary, Stephen Jones.

“Firstly, it confirms that employers do not have the right to tell employees what they can or can’t do in their own free time. Secondly, it sends a clear message that public service managers must not allow their own political views to dictate how they treat employees,” he said.

Jones said there were concerns that the OEA’s actions may have breached the Public Service Act. The OEA was ordered to email all staff, retracting the previous advice banning leave on November 30, and reassess any application for leave that may have been refused.

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